Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Trial Balloon?

CNN's Carlos Watson says President Bush may try to phase out Social Security for federal workers by executive order. I guess if the democratic legislation approach doesn't pan out this may be next.

It was a long time coming. <$NoAd$>But Rep. John Tanner (D) of Tennessee is out of the Fainthearted Faction.

TPM Reader Rex Leatherwood attended Tanner's townhall meeting last night and sent in the following ...

I attended a John Tanner Town Hall Meeting tonight at Union University (a Southern Baptist University) in Jackson, Tennessee. Congressman Tanner made it quite clear that he was against the President’s plan. Here are some quotes: “We’re (the Democrats) not going to negotiate with the President until he takes this bad idea off the table” and “We need to fix the floor (Social Security) and then give preferential tax treatment to savings outside Social Security.” When talking about the necessity to borrow over a trillion dollars to finance the President’s plan, he said “I think it’s immoral to leave young people this debt. I believe my generation should pay as it goes.”

Rex's account is confirmed by this article in this morning's Jackson Sun. The Sun quotes Tanner saying this about private accounts: "Don't play the stock market with money you can't afford to lose."

It didn't go well for Fainthearted <$NoAd$> Faction Dean Allen Boyd either. This from the Tallahassee Democrat ...

U.S. Rep. Allen Boyd was being pelted with Social Security questions and comments ranging from seriously skeptical to hotly hostile Tuesday night when a woman who won't be affected by pending changes herself seemed to summarize what the national furor is all about.

"When I retire, I want to retire," said Marguerite Burton. "I don't mind doing volunteer work, but I want to be guaranteed that our benefits will be there. And I want them to be there for my children and grandchildren."


"There are some tough choices to be made, no free lunch here," Boyd said as he roamed the audience, microphone in hand, like a southern Phil Donahue. "We're going to make the wealthy people pay more for this plan and protect the low-wage workers."

Instead of asking a question, Joe Cain just asked "for a quick show of hands" for or against Boyd's plan. With a chorus of groans, audience sentiment ran heavily against Boyd's suggestions and Cain estimated the vote was 4-1 or more against the idea.

"Coming out tonight was worth the trip, just to find out that I'm wealthy," said Richard Willis, who said he earns in the area Boyd wants to raise the Social Security tax ceiling. "But your privatization scheme has nothing to do with solvency. This is a system of social insurance, not personal investment."

There was one good moment for Boyd. He got the author of the article to buy into his bamboozlement language. Writes Tallahassee Democrat Political Editor Bill Cotterell at one point in the article: "The Kolbe-Boyd plan does not privatize Social Security and - like President Bush's plan - won't affect benefits for workers 55 and older."

"Emotions run high at Social Security forum," says the headline in the King County Journal. Here's their article on Rep. Dave Reichert's <$NoAd$>townhall meeting last night back in the district ...

Dave Reichert came to the people Tuesday night to talk about Social Security, and they talked back.

Reichert, three months into 8th District in Congress, held a town hall-style meeting at Bellevue High School in which the 300-strong crowd demonstrated the strength of their opinions, at times shouting over Reichert or the other people sharing the stage with him.

The event was structured as a question-and-answer session, but with the audience's questions submitted in writing, to be asked by moderator Jim Vesely, editorial page editor of the Seattle Times.

A three-member panel then debated the answers, with Reichert occasionally chiming in.

The audience clearly disagreed with the panelists on their endorsement -- which Reichert shares -- of a part of President Bush's plan to introduce privately managed investment accounts as part of a Social Security reform program.

As it happens, at least three of those three hundred were TPM Readers who sent in detailed reports of all the bamboozling that took place. One nice moment, according the Journal article, came when an audience member asked about raising the payroll tax cap. Paul Guppy, the think tank 'winger and former Ernie Istook staffer on the panel, whom we discussed last night, responded: "You could raise the cap to $1 million if you want to, I don't think it would help." So you can see what a straight shooter he must be.

We'll try to bring you more on this train wreck later in the day.

Count Chocola thought his past would never catch up with him.

But he didn't count on TPM Reader BB!

A month ago we put out <$NoAd$> word that there was a bounty of a brand new 'Privatize This' TPM Shirt for that intrepid supporter of Social Security who could find us the original paper copy of the October 8th, 2000 Elkhart Truth in which Rep. Chris Chocola (R) of Indiana not only proclaimed his support for President Bush's privatization plan but insisted that that still wasn't enough to slake his thirst for private accounts.

"Bush's plan of individual investment of 2 percent of the money is a start," crowed the Count. "Eventually, I'd like to see the entire system privatized."

As we've now chronicled in what is likely painful detail, Rep. Chocola has since denied ever supporting any sort of privatization, let alone the total privatization he longed for in 2000. He has even gone so far as to demand that ads which use the quote above be removed from the airwaves.

In any case, like a treasured bootleg of Dylan touring with the Hawks in 1966 or an early blue movie of some rising starlet, everyone knows the goods are out there. And yet actually getting your hands on a copy is no mean proposition. But thanks to BB, we've got a copy of the original, a small portion of which you can see for yourself on the right.

A bit earlier today I mentioned that freshman Rep. Dave Reichert (R) of Washington state was holding a 'forum' on Social Security this evening, moderated by James Vesely, The Seattle Times' editorial page editor.

The participants, reports the paper, were ...

Rob Nichols, assistant secretary for public affairs at the U.S. Treasury Department and previously an aide to former Reichert's predecessor, Republican Jennifer Dunn; Paul Guppy, research director at the Washington Policy Center, a Seattle think tank; and Sally Canfield, assistant to House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.

Now, when I first saw this article this afternoon, it wasn't hard to see that this wasn't the most balanced panel, given that it includes one flack for Treasury Secretary Snow and another for Denny Hastert. But I didn't get into it <$Ad$> because I didn't know anything about Paul Guppy and the Washington Policy Center.

It seems, though, the benefit of the doubt I afforded them was entirely undeserved. TPM Reader DF points out that on their website the Washington Policy Center proudly quotes Jack Kemp calling them "the Heritage Foundation of the Northwest." So I think we can say with some confidence that Reichert's panel didn't include the full diversity of views on the future of Social Security.

In any case, this raises what I guess we might (with some puffery) call a methodological question for TPM. Reichert was one of the first members of the Conscience Caucus -- largely because in those early days all it took to get in was to express something short of clear support for the president's plan. And I've been reluctant to revisit earlier admissions on the basis of our evolving standards of conscience.

Clearly, though, Rep. Reichert is a first-class bamboozler because here he is still claiming that he hasn't made a decision on privatization and yet he puts together a panel where the participants range from think-tank supporters of phase-out to paid phase-out-onians from Treasury and the Speaker's office.

It's also true that the Conscience Caucus list doesn't fully capture the direction of the debate right now -- seeing as the great majority of Republican members of Congress express at least some bogus open-mindedness about the president's plan to keep on the right side of their constituents.

The real issue today is that fairly long list of Republican members of Congress who are managing (with their talking points in hand from party central) to dodge taking any position at all on the most important and contentious political question of the day: Social Security and whether or not to phase it out.

If that's not bad enough, you've got a bunch of them -- like Rep. Heather Wilson -- trying to trick their constituents into thinking they're against phase-out when actually they seem to be for it.

So we're going to put together a list of the top ten Social Security switch-hitters in Congress -- the ones who have put in the true bravura performances in their quest to keep their constituents entirely in the dark about where they stand on this issue. And unlike the Caucus and Faction lists, this one will have a limited membership and have members ranked in order of political ambidexterity and policy bi-positionality. Certainly, Rep. Heather Wilson (R) or New Mexico is first on the list. And Reichert is probably on their too.

But who else? We're taking nominations.

A little while back I mentioned that a few days before I got married I was on a debate panel with Cato's Michael Tanner and Times columnist Paul Krugman debating Social Security privatization. It doesn't include video of the whole debate; but this video on the Democracy Now website has each of our opening statements: Tanner, Krugman, Marshall, in that order.

March 31st is the day. In cities around the country, folks will be protesting Charles Schwab and Wachovia, the two big financial services firms still propping up the White House's pro-phase-out front groups. Click here to find out more.

Ahhh ... A thing of beauty, the first signs of the intra-phase-out-camp free-fire zone.

Club for Growth loads up again and starts firing away at Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina for having the temerity to raise the possibility of raising the payroll tax cap to fund phase-out.

This press release out from Le Club bashes Graham for considering raising taxes rather than being a principled conservative and just borrowing the money.

More information on those folks in Colorado who got booted from a Bamboozlepalooza event because of a bumper sticker on their car. It seems the planners of these taxpayer-funded events hire rent-a-cops, dress them up to look like Secret Service agents and then have them boot people who don't seem Bush-true.

See this post from Kos for more details.